Princeton Rugby Dedicates a New Field House

Paul and Heather Haaga cut ribbon at Haaga House, while daughter Blythe Haaga ‘05 looks on

After nearly 135 years of competition and 80 years of continuous play on its bucolic Campus in Central New Jersey, Princeton University’s Rugby Club dedicated its first permanent home on June 1, before more than 300 rugby-playing alumni, as well as friends, University officials and national rugby representatives. Exhibition matches between the Women’s and Men’s undergraduate rugby teams and the Alumni/ae were part of the celebration.

The field house, sitting astride the University’s two rugby game fields on a portion of the 257-year old college, is named “Haaga House,” in honor of the significant, continuous generosity of Paul Haaga, a member of the Princeton Class of 1970 and his wife, Heather Sturt Haaga, who is also an honorary member of the Class of 1970.

What Does The New Field House Facility Contain?

Adjacent to a main gateway to Princeton’s Campus, this facility is surrounded by wide, open, tree-bordered athletic fields, including two rugby game fields and several adjacent practice fields. The rugby facility is over 5500 square feet under roof, with two “modules” and an open air viewing area.

Haaga House dedicationOne of the modules contains Men's and Women's home team rooms, as well as changing rooms for visiting rugby teams. Extra space provides treatment areas for trainers and medical personnel. The second module houses bathrooms, storage areas, electrical controls and maintenance utilities.

Between the two structures is a large covered gathering space for spectators that also serves as a lightning shelter and protection from inclement weather. The building was draped for the occasion with banners reflecting some of Princeton Rugby’s national championships, Ivy League Championships and other successes.

Athletics Department Support

The Ford Family Director of Athletics Gary Walters '67 said he is "1000 percent behind this new facility for our loyal Friends of Rugby. You've been very patient and continue to support the University in many areas through the years. I can't tell you how much we appreciate your commitment. This Dedication is a significant milestone in the long, storied history of the Rugby Program here at Princeton."

In addition to the hundreds of current and former players attending, several University Trustees and senior administration officials were present to help celebrate the day. They included Vice President for Campus Life Cynthia Cherry; Athletic Director Gary Walters ’67; Recording Secretary Kirk Unruh ’70; Senior Associate Athletics Director - Facilities, Jeff Graydon; Associate Athletic Director - Campus Recreation David Leach; Assistant Director of Campus Recreation – Sports Clubs Mitch Reum; a large number of officials of Princeton’s Development Office; and board members of the Princeton University Varsity Club, which advises the Athletics Department on one of the most diverse and successful athletics program in the United States.

Princeton University currently competes in 38 women’s and men’s varsity sports and 35 sports clubs. More than one-half of all Princeton undergraduate students compete in either sports clubs or varsity sports, where the Athletics Department motto is “Education Through Athletics.”

Princeton is the only Ivy League college in the top 30 in the Directors’ Cup standings, ranking the Nation’s best overall collegiate athletics programs. Every university ranked ahead of it awards athletic scholarships, which Princeton does not. Students are admitted to Princeton without considering their potential need for financial aid. Then, Princeton grants scholarships to admitted students who need the aid to attend the college, without regard to athletic ability. It is also the first and one of the few colleges in the World which awards scholarship grants with no loan component, meaning that most Princeton students graduate from Princeton with no outstanding college loans.

USA Rugby, the sport’s governing body, sent Nikki Wiederaenders, Executive Director of its Foundation, to help Princeton celebrate this milestone event and to make presentations. Princeton is one of the few colleges in the US which has a dedicated rugby field house.

The building’s architect, George Hibbs, AIA, principal of the noted architectural firm, Clarke Caton and Hintz based in Trenton, was also on hand and was thanked for his vision and execution of the project. The project was completed on time and on budget under the supervision of Princeton’s Senior Associate Athletics Director Jeff Graydon, who was recognized at the ceremony.

Alumni Comments at the Event

A two-time Princeton Captain who returned for the dedication and played against the undergraduates later was Elaine Bigelow, Princeton Class of 2010. Elaine, now in medical school in Maryland said, “Rugby is a great sport because it can find a place for players of all sizes, shapes and athletic abilities. Sure, we welcome experienced players from the United Kingdom, Argentina, Africa or elsewhere. But like me, and so many other Princeton Rugby players through the years, most U.S. players have never seen a game before their first competitive match. Usually, we played other sports before arriving at Princeton and get great coaching here.” She added, “Along the way, players forge life-long bonds of camaraderie from a shared commitment.”

Paul Haaga, remarked before the ribbon-cutting opened the facility, “Because the players themselves usually handle personnel decisions (who plays and who does not), scheduling, budgeting, finances, travel and administrative details, over the years we’ve learned that these students pick up valuable management skills that aren’t often taught in college. This often results in more successful careers and family lives.”

Graduating Senior Co-Captain, Olivia Girard ’13, added,  "Thanks to all Princeton Rugby Friends for helping us get this far. We truly believe this is only the beginning! We're so excited that before we graduated we are able to use the new Princeton Rugby Team Rooms and celebrate this great day with so many Alumnae. These facilities can only improve the Princeton Rugby experience for all those Princeton Rugby players who will follow. We are Tigers for life."

Donors Honored by Princeton

In addition to the Haagas, thousands of Princeton Rugby players donated small and large amounts to support the largely self-funded program. The Princeton Rugby Endowment is the primary funding vehicle for coaching, fields, facilities, equipment and certified athletics trainers.

Princeton University unveiled a Donor Wall during the Dedication, reflecting nearly four-dozen Princetonians who gave at least $25,000 to the Rugby Endowment since 2007. Among the donors present and honored on the Donor Wall are Sue and Ken Koranda, who set up a $500,000 matching gift challenge for rugby coaching in honor of their rugby-playing son, Rob, who died soon after he graduated.

Responding to the Koranda Challenge, 100% of the Class of 2013, Women and Men, committed to give to the Rugby Coaching Endowment Fund for 5 years. When the Senior Class gifts are matched, this could lead to more than $50,000 from Princeton’s youngest rugby alumni. The 1261 members of the Class of 2013 graduated at Princeton’s 266th commencement ceremony yesterday, on June 4, 2013.

Inspired by the Senior Class, 80% of the players on the Women’s teams who played for retiring Coach Emil Signes (Classes of 2004-2012) pledged to give for the next 5 years which, when matched could generate over $130,000 for the Princeton Rugby Coaching Endowment. In addition, 100% of the Men’s Classes of 2010, 2011 and 2012 have committed to give to this rugby coaching endowment for the next 5 years.

BACKGROUND ON THE HAAGAS: The Haagas have been major benefactors to Princeton, supporting a student theater at Princeton, endowing a curatorship of prints and drawings of the Princeton Art Museum, and supporting a portion of the Princeton University’s internationally renowned rowing center.  

Paul Haaga retired last year as Chair of the Capital Research and Management Company, one of the largest mutual fund management companies in the world. He serves on the boards of National Public Radio, the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, the Huntington Library, and the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Heather Haaga is a Vassar College graduate and member of its Board of Trustees, and also serves on the boards of the Princeton Theological Seminary and Berea College.

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